Camden Lock Market is one of the greatest treasure troves London has to offer. Not to be confused with its down the street neighbour Camden Market, the Lock Market spans a vast area both indoors and out, with an abundance of food vendors, antique hawkers, and loads and loads of tourists. Without a doubt, your first time visiting will be overwhelming, but with these helpful tricks, you'll be navigating the lock like a pro.
Cash is King
In a world of weird and wonderful, you won't be able to take anything home if you only bring your card. Image courtesy of www.camdenmarket.com
Like many sections of London, cash still rules the winding labyrinth of the market. Almost all vendors deal solely in cash, and the very select few who do have a card reader will begrudgingly judge you for holding up the queue.
The market only has one cash machine in the direct vicinity, so needless to say the queue there will be longer than any other shop or stand you visit. That being said, make sure you stock up your wallet before heading over.
Almost all the vendors are independent and set their own prices. Most of the time, you'll get a pretty good deal on the various antiques, knick knacks, or handmade goods they're selling already, as they want to compete with the likes of Primark, Amazon, and Argos. However, even I'm guilty of wishing they'd lower their prices sometimes, because who doesn't like a good deal?
I've had many instances, being as overly talkative as I am, where I make connections with vendors from sharing stories, listening to their day, or just being one of the few people to actually stop for a chat, and because of this, they've given me a discount. To be clear though, in the case of Camden Lock Market and many other markets around London, I would advise to never haggle or ask outright for a discount, as that can be demeaning to the work they are doing. But if they offer you a discount for making their day a bit friendlier, who are you to say no?!
Accept the Fact that You're Going to Get Lost
Connected via a sloping decent, the horse tunnel holds even more vendors.
Camden Lock market is definitely a labyrinth. First there's the maze of giant food stalls, then strange alleyways, and somehow you've ended up underground in the old horse market (don't worry, there are no horses being bartered here, just vendors taking over old horse stalls from way back when). On top of that, the market is always jam packed with people, even when the weather is cold and sordid. The crowd moves in a sort of mob mentality way, or like swimming upstream, and you'll find that more often than not you'll be unintentionally guided into a different part of the market that you had expected.
But that's all part of the fun! The sooner you learn to not be bothered and go with the literal flow of things, the more you'll enjoy your experience there! You might even be guided into a different part of the market and find things you might not have even noticed had you not been pushed along there.
Taste Test Everything
Another side tip that goes without saying: always finish with ice cream!
There are food vendors on top of food vendors on top of food vendors and the KERB food section of the market. From Colombian street food to wood-fired pizzas to Asian fusion Korean Burritos, anything you're craving, they'll probably have it. But if you're not craving anything specific, all of these options just become too many choices. Where do you even begin?
The great part about this market, unlike most, is that every vendor is always offering up samples, hoping to entice you into buying their offerings over another stall's. This ensures a foolproof way to get something you'll like, instead of risking a bold choice not exactly panning out the way you had hoped (that being said, I've never had bad food there!).
Still undecided as you want a bit of everything, or broke from all your other shopping around the market? Though it's always better to support these local businesses, you can easily get your fill by trying samples at various stalls around the market, giving yourself a diverse (and free) sampling of the best Camden has to offer.
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
Queues turn into crowds in front of the food stalls.
As you can tell in the aforementioned tips, the market is huge, confusing, and packed. Even if you just have one specific shop or stall in mind, it's rare to get out of there in an hour. Make sure you at least give yourself a window of two or three hours to account for all the perusing, wandering, and sampling you're going to be doing, so that you can properly enjoy the market!